MLB, MLBPA mercifully fail to come to international draft agreement

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​The threat of an international draft remains, in the sense that there will be negotiations in the future, other collective bargaining agreements around which to discuss the possibility of revamping the entire structure of international player acquisition. The good news, though, is that the most recent conversation is over, and no international draft arose from it. The MLB Players Association rejected MLB’s final proposal on Monday, refusing to give in to MLB’s desire to not only create an international draft, but to do so in a way that would create even more of a discrepancy between the earning potential of domestic and international amateurs.

Per ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez, the PA’s international members (primarily Latin-American players) were opposed to the introduction of a draft, and the union at large listened:

Most Latin American players, favoring a free-market system and concerned about how the livelihoods of those tasked with developing young players in their home countries would be impacted, were adamant against an international draft. The MLBPA and MLB ultimately agreed to table discussions during CBA negotiations, setting up Monday’s deadline.

A league spokesperson commented, of course, which Gonzalez also included:

MLB worked to reach an agreement with the MLBPA to reform the international amateur system in ways that would address longstanding challenges and benefit future players. We are disappointed the MLBPA chose the status quo over transitioning to an international draft that would have guaranteed future international players larger signing bonuses and better educational opportunities, while enhancing transparency to best address the root causes of corruption in the current system.

There are problems that need to be solved in international markets, for sure. MLB isn’t wrong about that. As has been said for years now, though, those problems are of MLB’s own making, and this idea that only an international draft can solve them is a lie the league has chosen to tell in order to get what they actually want: control.

As I wrote for Deadspin in 2019, control is the entire point, and caring about the plight of the players is the way they’ve chosen to frame their fight for it, since that’ll play much better with an audience that might not be paying as much attention to the situation as they should:

MLB and its officials have pushed the need for a draft because of their concern about the human toll created by the lawlessness of the current international free agent system. According to the reporting of ESPN’s Jeff Passan, four of the players expected to sign in an upcoming international signing period were just 13 years old when they agreed to deals with MLB teams. That is three years before potential international free agents are even permitted to work out at MLB complexes, and so very much against the rules.

It gets worse. Those 13-year-olds, if they reside in the Dominican Republic, were once 10- and 11-year-old kids who were pulled out of school, along with the rest of the potential future professional baseball players, so that they could focus exclusively on baseball.

Those same children who leave school to pursue the vanishingly distant dream of making it as pro athletes are exploited in various ways along the way. For starters, they’re likely pumped full of performance-enhancing drugs by their buscónes, the trainer-agents that work as middle-men between international free agents in places like the Dominican and MLB teams. Kids who appear bigger and stronger are going to stand out more to scouts, and are more likely to pull in larger contracts; for middle-school-age children with a chance at real money, the potential rewards outweigh the myriad obvious risks. Those players will only get that money after other people get theirs. MLB officials routinely get kickbacks in exchange for paying extra for a given prospect. Buscónes get a cut, too: they aren’t just finding, training, drugging, and representing these kids out of the goodness of their hearts. There are reasons to doubt MLB’s sincerity, here as always, but the human costs of all this institutionalized scuzz are real, and significant.

All of that needs to be cleaned up: the rest of the article, which I’ll leave for you to read in its original form, is about how MLB already has the rules and mechanisms in place to keep any of it from happening — there simply is no need for a draft, unless you are the owner of a professional sports team, in which case you want a draft for the same reasons you always do. Because it’s cheaper for you!

I do think it’s worth fixing what’s broken in countries like the Dominican Republic. The problem is that MLB isn’t interested in fixing it unless they also get something out of the arrangement — in this case, an increase in their bargaining power, and a reduction in the bargaining power of the amateurs they’re trying to bring on board. That the major holdup in the creation of an international draft is mostly how many millions of dollars will be allocated to draft bonuses is further evidence of this. If MLB really wanted to fix what’s broken, they wouldn’t have let a difference of $69 million shut down their efforts to create a draft that the PA was, regrettably, going to allow them to institute.

The PA is in a tough position here, in that they really shouldn’t have any ability to negotiate away the rights of non-members like this in the first place, but since those non-members aren’t in a position to fight the systems in place themselves, it falls to the Players Association to negotiate for them. The existence of a minor-league union would help fill in some gaps here, since every single international signee/draftee would become a member of that union, whereas that is not the case for MLBPA membership, but no such union exists at the moment.

So, the best they can do is to keep MLB from making this a total scam, which is why their proposals centered around the idea that, if there is to be a draft instead of just a signing period, the players need to be treated as well, financially, as players selected in the domestic draft each summer. MLB wasn’t interested in that, and while plenty of damage has been done to both the domestic draft and the international signing markets with the PA’s help over the last decade or so, putting a stop to a continuation of that damage doesn’t mean they lack a desire to help these kids out, like MLB so clearly does. There is only so much they can do to help, and when MLB has no interest in creating a draft system that’s equal to what exists for American-born players, what are the options that remain? Agree to an even worse system that will damage the future of all of those amateurs in a different way? No thanks.

All the PA can really do is stave off MLB’s obsession until MLB gets desperate. An international draft is likely inevitable, given the PA has agreed to the existence of one in principle, but that’s no reason to simply give the league what they want. Knowing this, MLB is unlikely to do anything to fix the existing, fixable issues, because “won’t someone please think of the children?” is a more attractive sales pitch to the world at large than “this will end up saving us a lot of money in the end.” The PA has plenty of reasons to not allow a draft to exist at all, never mind for what MLB is offering, as even their own members who came up within the international signing system believe it to be, for all its flaws, superior to a streamlined, restrictive draft. What’s MLB’s excuse for the perpetuation of the status quo here?

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